In the weeks and months after the January 25 Revolution in Egypt, there was hope among commentators and opposition figures that some post-Soviet regimes might be equally susceptible to uprisings and collapse. Such hopes were not entirely fanciful. Like the events of the Arab Spring, the color revolutions in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan in the early 2000s caught observers off guard. And making confident predictions about the durability of authoritarian regimes anywhere is a hazardous enterprise. Nonetheless, even while the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak led to further mass protests (and crackdowns) across the Arab world that are dramatically reshaping the region’s politics, leaders in Central Asia and the Caucasus—the region physically and culturally closest to the Middle East—reacted with barely a yawn.
This memo identifies three reasons for the Arab Spring’s failure to influence events in Central Asia and the Caucasus: (1) the social ties enabling diffusion across Middle Eastern states weaken when they cross the Russian-language barrier, (2) post-Soviet regimes became more resilient in the early 2000s in response to the color revolutions, and (3) the likely form of political opposition differs between the two regions, making a structurally similar uprising unlikely. This does not mean post-Soviet regimes are indestructible; rather, they are more likely to break down in other ways. [...]